Aeneid X.689-768 – Mezentius enters the battle and performs mighty deeds.Over the next few days I'm planning to post some passages from Aeneid X and the Iliad which show just how thoroughly Homeric the character of Mezentius is. Stay tuned...
This account of the aristeia of Mezentius, the ally of Turnus who despises the gods (cf. note on line 150-1), is built up carefully to make him a worthy adversary of Aeneas. It is based very largely on Homeric battle-scenes, and indeed Mezentius in his ruthless valour shows all the qualities of a warrior of the heroic age. The victims of Mezentius are sometimes simply listed (699f.), sometimes given a touch of personality (719f.), and the scene ends with a general list of those killed in the battle and a glimpse of the gods watching before it finally focuses once again on Mezentius.
The passage is made particularly Homeric by the frequency of similes (the Iliad has more similes than any other ancient epic). There are four extended similes in seventy lines (693f., 707f., 723f., 763f., the latter a double simile), and the first three are very largely based on Homeric originals. Virgil is closer to Homer here than almost anywhere else in the poem; this is deliberately done to portray the archaic nature of Mezentius’ qualities as compared with those of Aeneas.